I know how turtles feel, suddenly staring at the sky, legs akimbo, the sense of vulnerability and impending calamity turning quickly to panic.
I lay in the road, pain in my shoulder and lower back thrumming hard in my brain, a level of pain that seemed to make it impossible to move, and yet I knew, I needed to move.
It takes a special kind of talent to crash in the middle of a road while on a mountain bike ride. There is only so much pavement, maybe 15 feet out of every 5000, to achieve the feat, but I have done it. I did it.
We came down the hill, down the narrow trail flanked by saplings, at speed. The danger there is that you’ll catch a grip on one of the close set trees and suplex yourself onto the ground, or worse, into another tree. Still, over hundreds of trips up and down that trail, I have never made that mistake.
This particular day I was feeling good, leaning into my turns, feeling the flow, popping lightly off the ground at every opportune rise.
Maybe I just let my guard down.
Out of the woods, the trail parallels a road crossing for maybe 40 feet, then crosses and flows right back into another close bound downhill run. I was rolling along next to the pavement when I decided to attempt to bridge over early. There, in between the smooth dirt and the hard pavement is a shallow ditch, the sort of gap that you would roll through 99 times out of 100 as long as you decided to point your wheel across it at a reasonable angle.
I didn’t do that.
I rolled down into the ditch, still too parallel, caught the shoulder of my front tire tread on the rising bead at the edge of the asphalt, and effectively hurled myself sideways, at speed, onto my back in the middle of the road.
This road, narrow though it is, is a fairly busy cut-through between two yellow-lined arteries. Those in the know fly through to cut out a pair of inconvenient lights. So, as I lay there, waiting for the full bloom of pain to rise, I was already beginning to fear I was about to be crushed to death by a car.
On a mountain bike ride. Like an idiot.
The pain rose quickly, time going elastic, from fast to slow to fast again. And I felt paralyzed, even knowing I lay in harm’s way, overcome by a greater belief that moving might kill me.
The human body is funny really, isn’t it? I can go from fully rigid and immovable with pain to back on the bike and rolling full speed in the space of a few minutes. Thankfully. Mercifully.
I went from convinced I’d broken something structural to sure I needed to move in the space of maybe 20 seconds, which I perceived as much longer. A single car slowed ahead. I got up, walked to the side of the road, and shook my seized body parts loose. I made a joke I can’t recall now to cover my embarrassment and let my friends know the ride wasn’t over.
And on we went. It took a few weeks for the ache to leave by back.